ELPE in Serbia

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Greek oil firm Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE) announced yesterday it would invest 170 million euros ($199 million) in Serbia by 2007 to expand its retail fuel network. Stavros Stellas, retail network development manager in EKO YU, Hellenic’s subsidiary in Serbia, said that after one year of EKO YU operations in Serbia, the company had decided to expand its business. «We are here and we have decided to stay. We plan to invest another 170 million euros and expand our retail network to 60 filling stations by 2007,» Stellas told Reuters. So far, EKO YU has invested about 32 million euros in seven filling stations. «EKO YU has established a firm basis for further development in the country,» Stellas said, adding that Hellenic Petroleum was eying development of Serbia’s oil market, still not fully liberalized and in which imports of derivatives are banned. The government has allowed free imports of crude but it has to be processed at state-owned oil firm NIS’s two refineries at Pancevo and Novi Sad with old technology that fails to produce quality oil products to European standards. Stellas said Serbia had to liberalize the market if it wanted to join the European Union and that Hellenic Petroleum was ready to help the Pancevo plant modernize after heavy damage was inflicted in the 1999 NATO bombing campaign over Belgrade’s repressive policy in its Kosovo province. «But the government must say what it wants to do with NIS, unveil its restructuring and privatization plans,» he said. NIS has said it was ready to restructure and prepare for privatization and Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic has said it would be the first big public companies to privatize. Besides NIS and Hellenic Petroleum, other players in the fuel market in Serbia, with a population of 8 million people, are Austrian OMV, Russian giant Lukoil and private entrepreneurs which own some 500 filling stations.